The Ultimate Guide to Writing Your Medical School Personal Statement
Your medical school personal statement is the cornerstone of your medical school application. As such, your personal statement should be polished, contain a good hook, well thought out, and capture why you want to be a doctor and what life experiences have informed your journey to applying to medical school. Since the personal statement is so important, it is not uncommon to not know where to start and/or feel the urge to procrastinate writing it. In this blog post, I’ll give you some tips and tricks to writing your best medical school personal statement and we’ll go through a brainstorming exercise so you can start to assemble your personal story, and think about some catchy hooks. Hopefully this will make the daunting task of writing your personal statement more manageable, and maybe even fun!
Anatomy of the Personal Statement
For the MD application process through AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service), the personal statement can be up to 5300 characters, including spaces. There is no prescribed format that you must follow besides the character limit, which provides a lot of room for creativity. However, I would definitely recommend chunking your personal statement into about equally sized paragraphs, instead of one long essay. This is for main two reasons. First, it is easier on the eye for admissions committee members who are reading your essay. Nothing is worse than opening an application and being hit with a dense wall of text, especially if this is the 100th application you’ve read today. Second, it helps your writing have a natural flow and makes changes in topics more natural. Most likely, your medical school personal statement will contain multiple themes/topics all around the central theme of why you want to be a doctor. You may choose to group these subtopics in paragraphs chronologically or by similarity to one another.
It’s also recommended to start of your personal statement with a hook. A hook is a short opening paragraph, which is used to contextualise everything else you’ve written. A good personal statement hook will give the reader an idea on what it is they are about to read, and grab their attention.
Start early, starting before the AMCAS application opens is recommended!
One of the best things you can do to improve your chances of getting into medical school is to make sure your AMCAS application is submitted as soon as possible. Every primary application must be verified, a process that can take weeks to months depending on when your application is submitted. As most medical school interviews and acceptances occur on a rolling basis, it is imperative that your AMCAS application and then your secondary applications are submitted as early as possible. Thus, you want to make sure your personal statement is ready to go and in its final form as soon as possible after the AMCAS application opens.
Make sure it is about YOU! Not your family, not your mentor, not your eighth-grade science teacher, YOU! Make sure you’re at the center of your personal statement hook
I often read personal statement drafts for friends or mentees and the most common mistake I’ve seen over the years is applicants forgetting to center their personal statement on their own accomplishments and their motivations for wanting to go to medical school. Likely, there have been many mentors and role models you have looked up throughout your pre-med journey. This is great to mention in passing as an element of your personal statement but focusing more than a sentence or two of your personal statement on other people is giving up precious space to show off your accomplishments and why you are a great candidate for medical school. Read examples online or see if anyone you know who successfully got into medical school would be willing to let you read their personal statement.
Have as many people as you can read your personal statement
Since writing the personal statement is often a process that takes many weeks to months, make sure to get feedback early from people with good insight into the medical school application process or a good literary eye. I shared the first draft of my personal statement with a few friends who were already in medical school as well as my favorite English professor from college, and their feedback helped me take my personal statement in a whole new direction. If I would have gotten the feedback to change the whole style of my personal statement closer to the deadline, I might not have had the time or been willing to make those big changes. Ask many people across many disciplines to read your personal statement. You don’t have to make all the changes everyone asks for, but if the same comment comes up a few times, you might want to take note!
Proofread, proofread, proofread
It is incredibly important not to have glaring mistakes anywhere in your application, but especially in your personal statement which will be read by numerous individuals at every school to which you apply. Once you’re nearing your final draft, I recommend printing out your personal statement and slowly reading it out loud. This change from seeing it on the screen to seeing it on paper and reading the sentences out loud will help you more easily catch mistakes and typos. In the same vein as above, see if you can get multiple people to help you proofread for typos. If you find a small typo after submitting your primary application, it isn’t the end of the world, and don’t worry too much about it, but make sure your secondary applications are free of typos as well.
Starting is the Hardest Part!
As promised, here is a quick brainstorming exercise you can do to get the ball rolling for writing your personal statement. Don’t worry too much about having a catchy first line or personal statement hook right off the back, often those will come later in the writing process. I think it is best to start by writing an outline as you would for a research paper with bullet points of what you want to talk about. This will look different for every person but getting a few ideas down on paper will really help you start to get in the rhythm of writing, especially if you aren’t an avid writer.
Here we go!
First, think of three things that make you unique. You don’t have to be an ex-pro football player or an award-winning musician to have things that are unique and exciting about you! What are your hobbies? Was your upbringing or learning environment growing up unique? What extracurriculars were you involved in during college outside of academics? The point of weaving in a few “fun facts” is that they will hopefully be memorable to the admissions committee.
Next, think of four things that demonstrate your longstanding interest in being a doctor. These can be shadowing experiences, volunteering, personal experiences, or anything you think is pertinent that the admissions committee would want to know about.
This next part is the harder part. Write down two ideas for possible threads you can weave through all your experiences and activities. Are you curious and inquisitive, did you participate in research projects, are you super into mystery novels? Did you play on a sports team, and do you have multiple examples from your brainstorming that you could use to demonstrate your dedication to teamwork because medicine is a team sport? These are just a few ideas but finding a common thread can help you tie your statement together and may lend some inspiration for writing that opening sentence, or personal statement hook.
Try to write a few sentences elaborating about each topic you wrote down, and you’re well on your way to a first draft! I hope this guide was helpful as you begin to write your personal statement for medical school. It can seem like a daunting task, but once you get started you may start to really enjoy the process. Happy writing!
If you would like some extra help writing your personal statements, consider looking into our essay editing workshop! And for more help with crafting the medical school application to get you into the school of your dreams, check out our 1-on-1 MCAT tutoring.